Spurs vs. Warriors Preview: A Showdown Between the NBA's Best

What to watch for in tonight's big matchup and why it's so important as the season rolls on.

Yes, the wait is finally over.

We've heard everyone talking about it for what seems like forever. Well, tonight is the night you can finally cross off that all important date that's been on your schedule for weeks. Ya know, the one that reads: "Watch Warriors vs. Spurs tonight!" Oh, you didn't do that? Yeah, me either...

Anyway, after watching the Warriors dismantle the Cavaliers on national TV a week ago, this game couldn't come soon enough. The undisputed best two teams in the NBA will take to the hardwood tonight, as each look to land the first blow in what should be a heavyweight fight to the bitter end in the Western Conference.

Now we've heard so much this season about Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, and almost just as much about Kawhi Leonard and his statement start to the new season. Who cares though really? 

It's a team sport -- and that's especially the case for these two squads. Sure, it helps to have the reigning MVP or a former Finals MVP on your side but what these teams are doing this year is so much more than that. Take a look for yourself.

Golden State Wins Pts/Gm O Rtg Ast/Gm eFG% 3PT%
Numbers 40 114.7 114.5 28.9 56.1 42.4
NBA Rank 1 1 1 1 1 1

San AntonioWinsOpp Pts/GmD RtgDRB%Opp eFG%Opp 3PT%
NBA Rank211112

Strength vs. Strength

If it wasn't as clear to you before, it's definitely clear now. This is number one versus number two, no matter how you look at it.

The Warriors, in terms of Offensive Rating, are the best offensive team in the league by over two points over the span of 100 possessions. Likewise, the Spurs, in terms of Defensive Rating, are the best defensive team in the league by a whopping 6.1 points per 100.

Digging deeper into these great numbers, the stat that could really swing things one way or the other is three-point attempts. You can see the percentages above, but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story about the Spurs' ability to defend the three-point arc. According to Basketball-Reference, San Antonio's 5.9 makes and 18.7 attempts allowed per game are the best marks in the league. 

Turn the page...Golden State is not only first in three-point percentage, but they're also first in three-point makes (12.8) and second in three-point attempts per game (30.2). The difference in those numbers are so huge that if they swing way or the other that could mean the outcome of the game.

However, you can't just look at it one way -- Golden State's offense versus San Antonio's defense. You have to look at the whole picture because the Warriors rank fifth in Defensive Rating and the Spurs rank third in the NBA in Offensive Rating.

This is what brings us to the without-a-doubt biggest difference between the two squads and what could certainly be the deciding factor in this battle: Pace.

Hare vs. Tortoise

The Warriors play at the second fastest pace among all NBA teams, averaging 99.3 possessions per contest. What this explains is exactly how they're among the best in Defensive Rating but fall to the middle of the pack in opponent points per game (102.6). 

The Spurs, on the other hand, operate at the NBA's eighth slowest pace with an estimated 94 possessions per 48 minutes. I can't say that this reduced pace plays too much of a role in the Spurs' stifling defense though. The Spurs are nearly six points ahead of the Cavaliers, who are currently second in opponent points allowed per game.

Man vs. Man

In terms of team personnel, the most notable item here is that Tim Duncan has been ruled out for tonight's game with right knee soreness. This could just be another example of Gregg Popovich's one-move-ahead mentality, but either way, it makes the head-to-head matchups in this game much more complex -- or does it?

You have to think that Duncan wasn't going to cover anyone than whoever the Warriors throw out at the five spot. He definitely doesn't have the quickness to stick with Draymond on the perimeter, and he'd be the perfect pick and roll defender on the 1-5 screen and rolls coach Steve Kerr and the boys like to run.

That being said, Boris Diaw and David West are the likely candidates to pick up Duncan's minutes at the five. While they aren't the same rim protector that Duncan has been over the years, they shouldn't be asked to do much of that with Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli's inability to create their own shots and the Warriors' tendency to do their damage from the perimeter. 

If anything, this might actually help to stretch out the likes of Bogut and Ezeli on the defensive end of the floor since Diaw and West are more likely than Duncan to connect on shots near the top of the key. Watch for Tony Parker to run a slew of pick and pops with the two near the elbow. 

LaMarcus Aldridge will likely have the toughest task of all the Spurs defenders as he draws the versatile Draymond Green. He might have a tough time keeping up with him on the perimeter, but Aldridge's 6'11" frame could get in the way of Green's shooting vision. It would be smarter for him to take LMA off the dribble. On his side of the floor Aldridge could have a tough time with Green's up-tight defense. However, if he can utilize his patented shoulder bump to turnaround jumper over the smaller Green, he could be in for a big night as the Spurs' offensive focal point.

This is where I think things should, and will, get a little interesting in terms of cross-matches. I'd expect Leonard to cover Curry for a large part of the game in an attempt to force Green to be the primary playmaker for the Warriors. Curry couldn't possibly guard Leonard on the other side, so Harrison Barnes -- a capable defender himself -- should pull that duty. If Kawhi looks to pick up some of the scoring load with Duncan out that might just force the Warriors to put Andre Iguodala on Leonard for periods of time in order to have a fresh set of legs out there.

The Leonard/Curry cross-match would force Parker to cover Klay Thompson and do a lot more running around on the defensive end. Whether that happens will depend on Pop's willingness to sacrifice Parker's offensive energy in order to slow down Curry's own offensive onslaught. Thompson's best bet would be to exploit Parker on the extended block. On the other side, Curry will likely have a tough time handling Parker's ageless pick and roll game.

With the other matchups as they are, Danny Green would slide onto fellow Tar Heel Barnes and look to play a lot of help defense on Thompson and Green if need be. Neither Green nor Barnes have been clicking on all cylinders lately, so if one of them can hit a couple treys, it could make for an interesting matchup.

Present vs. Future

That's how the matchups should play out today. What about down the road? Without Duncan, the center spot rolls over to the veteran combination of West and Diaw, but when Duncan is at full health, he'll see the bulk of the starter's minutes, and his backups will likely be effective assets off the bench.

We'll have to see how Pop handles the one-on-one matchups in this one. If he plays it more conservatively, he'll more than likely take this as a learning experience and look to change things up if things go bad (like a Warriors steamrolling).

If the Warriors have troubles with the size and length of the Spurs, will they look to make some lineup changes or maybe even some roster changes? If not, there's nothing to change. Keep the smallball lineups rolling and hope that Pop doesn't figure out how to crack the code.

We'll have to see how things play out tonight in order to gauge just how things might develop between the two Western powerhouses going forward. I have the feeling that this is merely the beginning of a season-long clash of NBA titans.